As unsexy as it may be, many people with vaginas experience a urinary tract infection (UTI) after sex.
Fact: According to a 2013 research review, 1 in 2 people with vaginas is familiar with the feeling of passing an icicle made of hot lava through their urethra… only to discover that the culprit is exactly one drop of pee.
And zero of them are likely to recommend the experience to even their sworn enemies.
UTIs are so common and so awful that we’re afraid of manifesting one right now just by writing about it. But there are ways to reduce the risk of a postcoital UTI. We took a deep dive into methods for preventing the burn.
Yes. According to an old 1989 study, having lots of sex can indeed cause a UTI.
More accurately, research has found that an active sex life increases the chances of a UTI, which makes sense when you find out what bacteria are the culprit behind most infections.
“Typically, the bacteria that cause UTIs originate from fecal flora,” says Alex Shteynshlyuger, MD, the director of urology at New York Urology Specialists.
One study showed that more than 60 percent of UTIs could be attributed to E.coli, which live in the intestines, then make their way down and out.
The proximity of your anus to your vagina makes it more likely that bacteria will find their way to your relatively short urethra and then travel up your urinary tract to your bladder.
“When bacteria make it into your bladder, they can invade your body’s immune defenses and cause an inflammatory reaction,” Shteynshlyuger says.
According to a 2000 study, UTIs can occur due to a plethora of other factors, including:
Therefore, it’s best to be mindful of what you do before and after sex. It’s a good way to minimize the risk of getting one.
Sex is fun, UTIs are definitely not. Here’s how to prevent post-sex UTIs.
1. Drink a bunch of water
The easiest thing you can do? Stay hydrated, says Jessica Shepherd, MD, OB-GYN and founder of Her Viewpoint.
“Increasing your water intake (and then expelling said water) helps flush the system of bacteria and keeps them from sitting in your bladder and building up.”
2. Pee after sex
Though only a handful of studies have found correlations between peeing after sex and lower incidences of UTIs, peeing after sex can potentially flush out bacteria before they have a chance to travel up your urinary tract and get cozy in your bladder.
“Since there is no cost to pee, it’s always a good idea, especially for someone who gets frequent UTIs,” Shteynshlyuger says.
On the flip side, a 2013 research review showed that holding in pee gives bacteria time to fester and multiply in your bladder, which can contribute to infections.
3. Wash with warm water
Giving your vagina a gentle wash with warm water before sex reduces the risk of bacteria entering your urinary tract.
Also, a 2002 study showed that spermicide with nonoxonyl-9 can cause tiny microabrasions in your vagina, which can lead to an infection — so stick to other forms of birth control.
Just don’t go crazy trying to disinfect your genitals and stay far away from vaginal douches. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, douches wipe out the good bacteria that live in vaginas, which messes up the flora and pH balance, leaving you at risk of infection.
4. Wipe front to back
“Proper hygiene, like always wiping front to back after using the bathroom can help keep bacteria at bay as well,” Shepherd says.
One study found that wiping the wrong way increases your risk of a UTI by 64 percent.
Make sure the motion in your underpants is one-way traffic.
Sex isn’t the only factor that can cause UTIs — there’s plenty more where that came from.
It’s not just about the rumpy-pumpy. There are steps you can take outside of sexytimes to reduce the risk of a UTI popping up.
The National Institute of Diabetic And Digestive And Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) recommends the following ways to prevent UTIs:
- Drink enough fluids. According to NIDDK, between six and eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day should be enough to keep healthy urinary function flowing.
- Don’t rush when you’re peeing. Make sure you fully empty your bladder when you “go.”
- Make sure your clothing is loose-fitting. Tight clothing may well increase your risk of a UTI. Let it breathe.
- Switch up your birth control. If you’re a fan of unlubricated condoms, diaphragms, or spermicide who experiences regular UTIs, it may be time to consider alternative birth control, as these may all contribute to your UTI risk.
Even if you’ve wiped, cleaned, hydrated, and peed religiously, you could still end up with with a UTI. The good news is that most UTIs resolve quickly.
“The immune system is very good at fighting off UTIs, and symptoms often resolve spontaneously within 1 to 3 days without antibiotics,” Shteynshlyuger says. “Though they can cause misery.”
A course of antibiotics should wipe away all UTI-related misery.
But if your infection keeps coming back and seems to be sex-related, both Shteynshlyuger and Shepherd agree that taking a small, preventive dose of antibiotics after sex is a solution you could discuss with your doctor to prevent future infections.
UTIs have some pretty nasty and recognizable symptoms, including:
- a burning sensation when you pee
- the urge to pee even when you don’t have much urine to expel
Keep in mind that there are also a host of other problems that can have symptoms similar to urinary tract infections, including:
- some sexually transmitted infections
- interstitial cystitis, a chronic condition affecting your bladder
“Once your doctor has ruled out other possible health issues, a urologist can make sure there are no anatomical problems that increase your risk of regular UTIs, such as incomplete bladder emptying and kidney or ureteral stones,” Shteynshlyuger says.
Remember that it’s a good idea to see a urologist if you have recurring UTIs. You do not need to visit one if you have an occasional UTI.
And if you suspect you have a UTI, it’s better to get checked sooner than later — untreated UTIs can sometimes progress to a kidney infection. While this is unlikely, it can be serious, so it’s worth making time to go get it checked out.
UTIs often resolve within a few days.
But it’s the safest option to talk with a doctor whenever you notice symptoms. This can help you nip the infection in the bud and get ahead of any complications that might develop due to a UTI.
Signs of complications
If you notice any of these symptoms, definitely contact your healthcare provider.
Acute pyelonephritis is an infection of your kidneys that comes on suddenly and causes severe symptoms, including:
- pain in your side and upper back
- a high fever
- chills and shaking
- a changed mental state
A UTI might also evolve into a bladder infection if it happens far enough up your urinary tract, and this can cause pressure and cramping in your lower back, as well as high fever.
If you notice these symptoms, it’s best to seek medical treatment immediately.
UTIs both burn and suck in equal measure, and sex can increase the risk of one developing.
You can reduce your risk of burning pee after sexy good times by staying hydrated, peeing right after sex, washing the area with warm water, and wiping yourself front to back.
You might also want to take a look at the birth control you use since some options can increase the risk of a UTI.